GOP TELLS MEMBERS: DON’T WORK WITH VULNERABLE DEMS…. Politico noted today that there are a “handful of moderate Senate Democrats” who are exploring alternatives to the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t surprising — it started in earnest last week — and it’s not even especially disappointing.

There are some other ways to achieve the intended policy goals, and if the mandate were replaced by something similar, it’d likely resolve some of the lingering constitutional questions. Republicans should be thrilled, right? After all, if they’re sincere about their deep-seated disgust for the mandate — which they consider some kind of outrageous abuse, despite having come up with the idea in the first place — GOP officials should welcome the chance to get rid of it. If the mandate is an affront to American freedom — it’s not, but just for the sake of conversation — it stands to reason Republicans would want to hasten its demise.

But they’re not. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw cold water on the idea of a compromise last week, and the Politico‘s piece included this tidbit.

Some in GOP circles fear that by teaming up with Democratic moderates, they could give these Democrats bipartisan cover that would help them in 2012.

Some Republicans are quietly warning colleagues not to work with vulnerable Democrats in the first place. […]

“It would be one thing if they were collaborating with Democrats on issues [for] which they’ve long shared an alliance,” a senior GOP aide said. “But there needs to be a recognition that this is not about principle for these vulnerable Senate Democrats. It’s all about election cycle gamesmanship, and our side shouldn’t be handing them political cover.”

I can’t speak to the moderate Dems’ motivations, but the cynicism is telling. If it’s “not about principle” for centrist Democrats, it’s certainly not about principle for Republicans spurning the Democratic outreach. Remember, as far as the centrist Dems are concerned, they’re ready to work with GOP colleagues to make legislation more to Republicans’ liking.

The GOP is effectively responding, “No, we’d rather help try to defeat you than govern alongside you, even if the efforts advance our interests.”

This is especially striking when it comes to the health care mandate. Here we have Republicans claiming that the mandate represents some kind of catastrophic assault on American liberty, and then deliberately blowing off an opportunity to work with Dems to get rid of the provision the GOP considers a disaster.

Marc Thiessen has a column on this today, insisting that Republicans shouldn’t try to improve health care laws with their own ideas — the GOP must aim for gutting the entire system, and nothing else. (Thiessen also argues Democrats “will never allow” the repeal of the mandate, which is odd, given that several Dems have already said they’re open to doing just that.)

I understand the strategy, but it’s a shame Republicans can’t be more mature about this. It’s quite literally unproductive — Republicans could advance their own interests, pursue their own goals, and move the law in their own direction, if they’d only be a little more responsible.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.